Arts Festival Inspiring: Bali

It wasn’t the kind of dance visitors usually watched at Bali’s numerous tourist-oriented stages. In fact, the dance was seldom performed outside temple walls and rarely without any ritual context.

“In our village, we perform the dance only at the Ngusaba ritual on the full moon of the fourth month in the Balinese calendar. The ritual takes place at Puseh temple,” I Wayan Bawa said.

Last Sunday morning, the 77-year-old man was sitting leisurely on the low, red-brick bench of the Angsoka stage in Denpasar’s Taman Budaya Bali arts center. Behind the colorful langse screen that separated the stage from the open dressing area, 20 men from Bawa’s hometown, Budaga village in Klungkung, gathered around a priest.

The priest distributed burning incense to each of the men before anointing them with a sprinkling of holy water. They placed the incense in their headgear; now, they were ready.

A gong ensemble began playing in tones both monotonous and overbearing. The men, with ceremonial spears on their shoulders, entered the stage with a stern look on their faces.

Unlike the glamorous and glittering costumes worn by Legong or Oleg dancers, these men wore simple costumes of red wraps, white trousers and rugged headgear. Their faces were painted with white lines, and each dancer held a piece of rolled tobacco between their lips.

Overall, they evoked the image of the tough, ancient soldiers from the remote areas of Bali.

“This is the dance of the soldiers. It is inspired by one of the most popular folklores in our area,” Bawa said.

The tale says that during the reign of Dalem Waturenggong in Gelgel, a military expedition was sent out to conquer the neighboring island of Nusa Penida and its rebellious king Dalem Bungkut.

The first expedition ended in failure as thousands of Gelgel’s warriors fell victim to a mysterious plague that resembled cholera. The disease was attributed to the supernatural power of Dalem Bungkut. The second expedition succeeded in placing the tiny island under Gelgel’s sovereignty.

“The soldiers of Dalem Bungkut were known for their merciless fighting skills and supernatural ability. This dance, we call it Baris Jangkang, was inspired by those soldiers,” Bawa said.

The dancers indeed moved like soldiers in choreography that was military in nature. At one point, they utilized the spears to form a defensive line; at another, the dancers acted in unison as an offensive force. There were also times when they formed two groups and started attacking each other.

“Their movements and gestures are simple, basic and straightforward. It is a dance without any esthetic ornamentation or embellishment in its choreography,” a spectator said.

In fact, the dance didn’t require any esthetic additions, because it wasn’t created for esthetic purposes.

“It is a sacred dance. It serves a religious, ritualistic function, so as long as it manages to express religious sentiments and aspirations, then the dance is perfect as it is,” respected scholar Made Bandem said.

In Budaga, the dance provided the villagers with the last line of defense in time of crisis.

“When there is a plague, we perform the dance. We believe that it can ward off any plague or evil forces,” Bawa said.

Despite its simple costume and basic choreography, the Baris Jangkang performance drew a huge audience. Spectators filled every available space at the venue, right to the brim of the semi-circular performance area.

A similar phenomenon could also be observed at each performance of a sacred dance throughout the 29th Bali Arts Festival.

The one-month long cultural gathering features several sacred dances, including Telek and Sanghyang Memedi, as well as the sacred musical ensemble of Selonding.

“(This is) Probably because the performance of a sacred dance is quite rare, unlike other traditional dances. Moreover, some of the sacred dances are site-specific; they only exist in certain parts of the island,” Bandem said.

He added that “The Bali Arts Festival provides the Balinese, particularly those living in urban areas, with a rare opportunity to watch the sacred heritage of this island”.

Yet, only a few people seem to realize that the annual festival has played a pivotal role in preserving this precious heritage.

“In the 1940s, Baris Jangkang had almost become extinct in our village,” recalled Bawa. “The dancers were too old to perform and the younger generation didn’t show any interest in the dance.”

He also remembered that during the 2nd Bali Arts Festival in 1979, he had a chance to watch several sacred dances from different regions in Bali.

“I was enthralled and inspired by those performances, that I went back to Budaga with one burning goal in my mind: I have to revive our sacred dance of Baris Jangkang,” he said.

Bawa said that, as though he was being guided by a divine power, he was easily able to track down every dancer who had a knowledge of Baris Jangkang. Even more curiously, when he told the Budaga youths about his plan, not a single one of them said no.

“Every time I picked somebody to play a certain part, he always said yes. It seemed that the Lord had bestowed his blessing on these efforts. The old dancers enthusiastically shared their knowledge with a group of Budaga youths who were willing to carry on the tradition,” he said.

Bawa knew the musical accompaniment by heart, so he began teaching the melody to his fellow villagers.

It took him six years to reconstruct the sacred dance. Finally, in 1985, the people of Budaga watched in pride as their Baris Jangkang warriors marched into the limelight at the commemoration ceremony of the heroic battle of Puputan Klungkung.

Ever since then, the performance from Budaga village has been a regular feature at every Bali Arts Festival.

“The festival has inspired us to give the dance a second life. Hopefully, our performance will inspire Balinese youths to do the same,” Bawa said.

Bali Arts Festival 2007 Highlights

Thursday, July 5
* 7 p.m.: Performance of various Barong, Ksirarnawa stage
* 8 p.m.: Classical Balinese opera of Arja, Wantilan stage

Friday, July 6
* 7 p.m.: Performance by senior Balinese artists, Ksirarnawa stage
* 8 p.m.: Japanese traditional dances, Wantilan stage

Saturday, July 7
* 6 p.m.: Classical Legong dances and Gender ensemble, Ksirarnawa stage
* 7 p.m.: Gandrung folk dance, Ratna Kandha stage
* 9 p.m.: Cenk Blonk shadow puppet, Ardha Candra amphitheater

Sunday, July 8
* 12 p.m.: Joged Bumbung folk dance, Ayodya stage
* 6 p.m.: Sacred Sanghyang Memedi dance, in front of Kriya building

Monday, July 9
* 10 a.m.: Classical Gambang, Slonding and Saron ensemble, Wantilan stage
* 6 p.m.: Ciwa Nada ensemble by Washington School of Music, Ksirarnawa stage

Tuesday, July 10
* 6 p.m.: Japanese traditional dances, Ksirarnawa stage
* 7 p.m.: Modern theater, Angsoka stage

Wednesday, July 11
* 8 p.m.: Modern theater, Ayodya stage
* 8 p.m.: Romantic Semara Pagulingan ensemble, Ksirarnawa stage

Unless otherwise noted, all events take place at Taman Budaya Bali (Bali Arts Center), Jl. Nusa Indah 1, Denpasar, phone (0361) 227176.

I Wayan Juniartha